Five ways to proactively build connections with customers  

Event Date: 14/09/2023 12:00 am

Five ways to proactively build connections with customers   

Industry leaders outlined ways in which utilities could rebuild relationships with customers and increase trust in the industry at our webinar with Capita.

Trust in utilities is low – and that’s a longstanding problem. Research from brand intelligence firm Ello Group last year found only about a tenth of customers trusting their utility supplier. Recent surveys of customer satisfaction also rank utilities bottom, below public services and even transport.

In a sector undergoing radical change, where consumption norms need to change to combat worrying climate and resource security threats, and consumer buy-in for monumental infrastructure investment being asked for, this is an increasingly vexing concern.

Help is at hand.

Our recent webinar explored how service design influences trust in utilities with panellists from UK Power Networks, Utilita and Southern Water coming together to suggest some practical ways of overcoming deteriorating trust.

In monopoly utility markets, where customers can’t choose who serves them, this can be a particularly tall order. As Jason McKinley, managing director retail and utilities at Capita, observes: “Customers feel powerless, and in some cases, trapped. They want to feel empowered, educated and in control.”

In this scenario, carefully thought through communications strategies which embrace the benefits of new channels and technologies, are all important, he emphasises. “With the right customer channels and communications, you can move from reactive to proactive [service].” Among other suggestions, McKinley shared points on the potential of social listening and voice analytics for achieving this shift.

Here are five more ways our industry speakers said utilities – monopoly or otherwise – should act to make a positive impact on customer trust.

Use technology such as automation to empower agents.

Louise Walsh, chief customer contact officer at Utilita, says automation is not about reducing operational expenditure. Rather, it can be used to provide insights to customer contact centre agents. “Your agent can use those insights to help the customer and focus on having an interaction, a meaningful conversation.”

“Often people look at automation as a means of reducing cost rather than actually driving real value in the customer experience,” says McKinley of Capita. Voice analytics and social listening can be used to get “ahead of the curve” and understand where trust (or lack of it) is impacting customers, he adds.

Engage frontline employees and give them the right tools.

Walsh points out that frontline employees are a key conduit for improving trust. “They are the people who speak to customers. It’s about providing them with the tools to serve the customer in the best way possible.”

Training agents properly, giving them support credits, and allowing them to ask themselves what the right thing to do is for each customer are important. First call resolution and reducing internal transfers also helps improve trust.

Don’t monitor call times.

Assuming that the basics are right – customers can get the number they need and get hold of an agent – then “giving the agent the time and autonomy to deal with the issue” is crucial, says Ian Cameron, director of customer service, UK Power Networks. “We don’t put a time on our agents, we don’t even measure it: we just say, whatever you need to do to deal with the impact on the customer, you do.”

Walsh agrees. “Saying to people you must do five calls an hour just de-incentivises them from having the right conversations.”

Focus on people, not infrastructure.

Katy Taylor, chief customer officer at Southern Water, says that everything comes down to people, but regulators and the industry often focus on technology and infrastructure. “The water sector tends to focus on infrastructure. Who are the people who are going to build the infrastructure and answer calls and generate bills? Your colleagues.

“There just isn’t enough focus on people in water.”

Be ambassadors to the public.

The “character” of utilities has been under attack and rebuilding trust in the water sector is hampered by a relentless stream of negative stories in the media, so it’s important to be an ambassador for the sector with the public, adds Taylor.

“I spend a lot of time talking to the media, just showing that I am a person, I am there, and I am dealing with it.” One on one and face-to-face interactions always mean better customer outcomes, she adds.

These were just a few of the key reflections from our panel on rebuilding trust with customers. Want more? Sign up to watch the webinar on demand here and find out:

  • Why trust is a strategic issue.
  • How we define trust.
  • How to design better customer experiences.
  • Why it can be difficult to measure trust.
  • Why the character of utilities is being questioned.